Using Reaper and free VST plugins to simulate a 12 string guitar

On the Six String Bliss forum I’ve got involved in a collaborative recording project where we’re going to document a lot of the background discussions and processes that go on, both so that we can find out more about how each other works and to pull together a “how to” guide (no doubt with elements of “how not to” as well).

The song chosen is Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” from The Wall. As we’ve been sharing out the various tasks and jobs somebody mentioned that they didn’t have a 12 string guitar. Now I have a Line 6 Variax, as does one of the other contributors and the Variax does a half decent job of simulating a 12 string. If you listen to it in isolation is is far from perfect but, especially when put into a mix, it is definitely usable. It set me thinking about whether you could mimic the sound of a 12 string in post-production, using Reaper and some of the free VST plugins that I have installed.

Before we dig into the steps I followed to do this, lets just take a minute to look at the way a 12 string is tuned. The E, A, D and G all have a second string that is tuned one octave higher. The B and E have an identical string tuned in unison.

So my first step was to record a single track of plain 6 string guitar. For this I used the neck pickup on my Hohner G2T, plugged into a Line 6 Pod XT Live (because it happened to be handy). I called this track “Raw Guitar”.

I then set up a second empty track which I called “Octave Up”.

On the “Raw Guitar” track I clicked on the “io” button, and added a new send, to route this signal to the “Octave Up” track.

On the “Octave Up” track I added one of Reaper’s bundled VST plugins called “ReaPitch”. I set this to shift the pitch up my one octave. I set the level of the “Octave up” track to be about -12db, just so it subtly underpins the raw guitar.

At this point it is starting to sound like a 12 string but, with this pitch shift, particularly in the higher registers, there is a harsh an unpleasant squeakiness that has been introduced. This is both a basic flaw in the way pitch-shifting works but also because we’re affecting the B and E strings. Whilst we can’t totally get rid of this, we can tame it to a certain extent, by EQing the signal before it goes into the pitch-shifter. For this I used the bundled ReaEQ plugin.

This is a four band EQ but in this case I’m only interested in having a simple low-pass filter so I disabled 2 thru 4. For #1 I set the type to “low pass” and then experimented with the cut off point. To my ears it sounded best at 2.2k, but this is something you could experiment with.

To give a final gloss I added a touch of chorus to the master track. I used the chorus from the excellent free Kjaerhus Classic collection. I selected the “Clean Guitar Chorus” preset, but wound the dry/wet mix back so it is a bit more subtle.

And here’s a soundclip of the results, stepping through the various stages; first raw, then with pitch-shifter, then with the EQ and finally with the chorus.

Much like the Variax it is far from perfect but, if used with care and subtlety, an interesting technique to have in the toolbox.

Image Source: Picture of 12 string guitar taken by Kirsty Darbyshire (flickr).

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2 thoughts on “Using Reaper and free VST plugins to simulate a 12 string guitar

  1. Excellent post, thanks for sharing!
    One question, can you describe the setup of the clean signal coming from the line 6 Pod XT Live? Sounds like a reasonably tasty dry signal you’ve got there. I’m just beginning, so would like to learn all I can!
    BTW, sounds a little more like “Wish You Were Here” than “Hey You”, but I’m a bit of a Floyd nut, so forgive me! Thanks again for sharing!

    • Well spotted James and thanks for the feedback. It is WYWH, or something like it anyway. I’m still learning the “Hey You” parts and this was the only other 12-string-ish Floyd piece I know.

      For the clean signal I’m just used the Pod XT Live with a plain amp sim with all the controls set at 5. I think it was the Fender Bassman model, but I’m not 100% certain.

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